Gestational diabetes – risk factors, diagnosis and measures to be taken
Gestational diabetes can put the health of both mother and baby at risk and should be monitored closely. Find out what the risk factors are, what symptoms to watch out for, and what to do if you have gestational diabetes.
Key points to remember
- Gestational diabetes is on the rise and should be monitored closely to ensure the health of both mother and baby.
- Most women have no symptoms, so the surveillance program is essential to ensure that the disease is detected at an early stage.
- Healthy eating habits and regular physical activity are, in most cases, sufficient to control the disease.
Did you know that gestational diabetes affects nearly one-fifth of pregnant women? The good news is that a healthy lifestyle and proper medical supervision can prevent the disease or help manage it. Learn about the risk factors, symptoms and what to do if you have gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is characterized by an increase in blood sugar levels that occurs during pregnancy. Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes results from increased resistance to insulin, caused during this period by the production of hormones essential for the development of the fetus. In most women, the pancreas responds by producing extra insulin, but this is not the case in women with gestational diabetes. It is particularly common during the second half of pregnancy and lasts until the end of gestation, disappearing in most cases after birth.
However, early control and diagnosis of the disease is essential! Gestational diabetes can affect the health of both mother and baby, even after the pregnancy is over, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Learn about the risk factors, symptoms and what to do if you have gestational diabetes.
Any woman can develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, but the risk is higher when any of these situations are present:
- Advanced maternal age
- Overweight or obese.
- Family history of diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies.
- Previous pregnancies with babies weighing more than 4 kg.
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome or another condition associated with insulin problems.
- Have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease or other medical complications.
The most common symptoms
Most women with gestational diabetes either have no symptoms or their symptoms are so nonspecific that they are often attributed to the pregnancy itself. However, here are some of the symptoms you should be aware of and not underestimate:
- You are more thirsty than usual.
- Sensation of dry mouth.
- You are hungrier and eat more than usual.
- Frequent urination.
How the diagnosis is made
Diagnosis is made through specific tests that assess blood glucose levels. According to the national surveillance program, this testing occurs at two points:
- At the first prenatal visit, between the 8th and 12th week, all pregnant women undergo a fasting blood glucose assessment. If the values are above 92 mg/dl, the woman is considered to have gestational diabetes.
- If values are below 92 mg/dl, the pregnant woman is reassessed between 24 and 28 weeks’ gestation by an oral glucose tolerance test with an intake of 75 g of glucose. The test should be performed in the morning and blood samples should be taken fasting, 1 hour and 2 hours after ingestion of the solution. During the test, the mother-to-be should be at rest.
What to do if you have gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes has been on the rise in recent years, but the good news is that most women can manage the disease with a balanced diet, physical activity and close monitoring, without the need for pharmacological treatment.
- The priority should be to control blood sugar. Pregnant women with gestational diabetes should perform regular self-tests, fasting and one hour after starting their main meals.
- The diet plan is based on the individual needs of each pregnant woman, but should be varied and balanced, including foods from the major food groups, with an emphasis on vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruits, proteins and healthy fats.
- Pharmacologic treatment may be necessary if glycemic goals are not achieved within 1 to 2 weeks of adopting more conservative eating habits. This may involve oral medications or insulin.